The University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team didn’t expect to get defensively frustrated by a team as up-tempo as Texas-Arlington, especially after jumping to a double-digit lead in Saturday’s first six minutes.
But the Movin’ Mavs did a number on the Ragin’ Cajun offense, especially in the second half, and that resulted in one of UL-Lafayette’s worst home losses under head coach Bob Marlin.
UTA forced the Cajuns into one of their worst shooting stretches of the season, forced 16 turnovers in a 26-minute midgame stretch, and more importantly converted those turnovers into offense on the other end in humbling the hosts 84-69 in their Saturday Sun Belt Conference meeting.
“We’d talked to our guys about being more active on the defensive end,” said UTA coach Scott Cross, who took his 150th career win and his first-ever over UL-Lafayette. “We were changing up defenses and trying not to let them get into a rhythm ... our guys were trying to keep them off balance.”
That worked like a charm for the Mavericks. The Cajuns led by six points early in the second half when Bryce Washington drove for a layup, but then had only two field goals over the next 13 minutes. The Cajuns hit two of 11 shots in that stretch, and the hosts didn’t make a perimeter basket in the second half until Xavian Rimmer’s 3-pointer with 5:47 left.
By that time, the Mavs had built a 17-point lead, and the Cajuns never got closer than 12 points in the final seven minutes.
“It was a painful game to watch,” Marlin said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever watched one that was that painful in the second half. We felt helpless on the bench.”
The win was poetic justice for UTA, which had thrown away second-half leads repeatedly since the start of Sun Belt play. The Mavs led by 11 and 10 in the second half last week in home losses to Georgia State and Troy, and blew a 13-point lead in the final 17 minutes in an earlier home loss to UL-Monroe.
“Sometimes you have great second halves, sometimes you have great first halves,” Cross said. “That’s basketball. I’m glad our guys came out and had a great second half, and we can stop all that talk about the second half and talk about the positive things our guys did.”
The loss put a damper on UL-Lafayette’s basketball reunion weekend, one that recognized head coaches Jim Hatfield and Bobby Paschal and their players during their careers from 1975-86.
Approximately 80 former players, coaches, support staff and others involved with the program were registered for the event that included a pregame reception Saturday at the Cajundome. The players and coaches from that era in attendance were also introduced individually at halftime.
The biggest player ovations were reserved for Graylin Warner, Dan Gay, Alonza Allen and Kevin Figaro, who were all parts of the Great Alaska Shootout champions in 1982 and the NIT Final Four unit of 1984. Hatfield and Paschal were the final two introduced, and they drew a standing ovation.
“It feels awful with the reunion, to play like that,” Marlin said. “I’m really disappointed for the former players that were here. It’s sad, and I feel just awful about that. It was tough for the fans to watch, too. This team has shown that they can have flashes of brilliance and they didn’t show it today.”
The Cajuns had lost by as many as 15 points at home only twice since Marlin took over in 2010. One of those was his first game as UL-Lafayette coach in a 92-76 loss to New Mexico State, and the other was the final regular-season home game in 2012 when the Cajuns fell to in-state rival UL-Monroe 78-60.
UL-Lafayette’s 28.0 shooting (7-of-25) in Saturday’s second half was its worst shooting second half of the year and the third-worst half overall. The Cajuns hit 23.1 percent (6-of-26) in the first half in a 56-52 loss to Milwaukee on Nov. 24 in the second game of the MGM Grand tourney in Las Vegas, and hit 25.0 percent (5-of-20) in the first half in a 75-64 loss at Georgia State on Jan. 24.
UTA scored 24 points off Cajun turnovers, tying the second-most by a UL-Lafayette foe this year and the most since giving up 25 off turnovers in an 89-85 loss at Northwestern State on Dec. 20. The Cajuns also gave up 44 points in the paint, a mark topped only by the 52 in that NSU game and the 48 by Auburn in a 105-80 road loss on Dec. 21.